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Cairo fears Egyptians killed in 'clash' with human smugglers in Libya

Egypt is looking into reports of at least 12 Egyptians dying in a fight with people smugglers in Libya, diplomats say. Three of the smugglers were also killed in the dispute, according to witnesses and a local official.

Cairo is contacting Libyan officials to find out what happened and help with identifying the bodies, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abu Zeid said on Wednesday.

"Preliminary information points to between 12 and 16 Egyptian illegal migrants having been killed in clashes with smuggler gangs," the ministry said in a statement.

The clashes reportedly broke out in the northwestern town of Bani Walid, which is contested between several factions in the war-torn country.

The Egyptians got into a money dispute with the smugglers and killed three of them, according to a local official cited by the Reuters agency. After that, the migrants tried to drive the bodies away, but were stopped at a checkpoint and taken to a police station.

Another smuggler later went to the police station and opened fire on them, the official said.

Migrants flocking to Libya

UN Libya envoy Martin Kolber said that the killing happened during a "series of incidents" on Tuesday and on Wednesday.

"I strongly deplore these terrible killings and call on those with authority on the ground in Bani Walid to ensure that the incidents are investigated and to prevent any further killings," Kobler said.

Libya has sunk into chaos after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011, with two rival governments and numerous militias vying for power. Recently, the UN has backed the creation of a new unity government, but the administration still has only limited influence outside Tripoli.

Human traffickers have used the power vacuum to run a lucrative trade smuggling people to Europe. Activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants are currently in Libya.

dj/gsw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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